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In Niger, water is life

In that country’s culture, a cup of water must be offered as a gesture of welcoming

by Jim McGill | Mission Crossroads

Children play a major role in water gathering with the village animals. (Contributed photo)

“Water is life” is a statement that is heard frequently throughout Africa as many people cannot take water for granted. This is particularly true in Niger, a country that is mostly within the Sahara Desert, with the remainder lying within the Sahel, a dry ecosystem that transitions between desert and savannah lands.

The importance of water is observed throughout the various cultures within Niger as a cup of water must be offered as a gesture of welcoming. Providing water to the household is primarily designated to women and children, who often get their water from hand-dug wells that can be 250 to 300 feet deep and that use animals to lift the water for a fee. If money is not available, the women often are required to lift the water themselves.

Niger is also a country that has been ranked by the Human Development Index to be 189th out of 191 countries. The HDI uses ranking criteria that includes the ability to live a long and healthy life, to be knowledgeable and to have a decent standard of living. The low ranking indicates that people in Niger are living within a cycle of poverty.

Niger is also a country in which over 98% of its population follow the faith of Islam, with less than 1% claiming to be Christian. The mission statement of our church, the Eglise Evangelique de la Republique du Niger (EERN) or the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger, includes: “Proclaim and demonstrate the values of the gospel of Jesus Christ through holistic ministries that address the moral, intellectual and physical needs of a person equally with their spiritual needs, while also caring for our living environment.”

Thereby, the EERN obliges itself to help bring the Nigerien people out of poverty by improving access to education and improving healthy livelihoods for its people. As a part of its mission, the church has established a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program to help people begin to step up the ladder to leave poverty behind.

EERN WASH agrees with the statement that water is the “Blue Thread” that flows through all development. Increased access to water brings better health through improved sanitation and hygiene. Having increased access to water will lead to improvements in standards of living as incomes can be augmented by having water available for uses other than drinking, cooking, cleaning and bathing. Water is also a necessary component for an effective educational environment.

In 2014, the EERN made the decision that it would place a pastor or evangelist in each of Niger’s 52 Administrative Departments. In recognizing that water is so important in providing opportunities to its people, the EERN has mandated that EERN WASH establish a “1 Evangelist/1 Well” program to strive toward each congregation having access to safe water everywhere a pastor or an evangelist is serving. The EERN sees a wide range of opportunities that arise when water is made available:

  • Water is a welcomed asset that introduces the evangelist and the evangelist’s family into a new community.
  • Bringing access to water can begin breaking down barriers that exist when a Christian church is opened within Muslim communities.
  • Having more water available means an opportunity for improved health, as water is necessary to improve sanitation and hygiene within the area.
  • Increased access to water improves the financial situation of those with access to the water not only because their health has improved, but more directly in that more water is available for livestock and for growing small kitchen gardens.
  • There are financial benefits for the church as water can be sold at prices that are charged almost universally around the country. Those funds go to support the income for the evangelist/pastor.
  • Income from water sales allows the system to be maintained over time.
  • Providing water opens opportunities for the evangelist/pastor to share what they have learned about improving WASH in their community while at Bible college.

As part of the 1 Evangelist/1 Well program, a well was drilled at the church in Gangara, which is located near the EERN headquarters in Maradi. This well is now a demonstration site for the 1 Evangelist/1 Well program, displaying all of the benefits of having access to an ample water supply near the home.

An irrigation system in Gangara waters both trees and vegetables. (Contributed photo)


While Gangara is a poorer community, the community is already benefiting from having more water, while the church will now be able to support its pastor independently from sales of produce available year-round from an irrigated garden. Collected funds will also maintain the pump and the irrigation system.

John 4’s account of the Samaritan woman at the well could very well take place today at a well in Niger. This story is a reminder that water has always been an essential part of ministry. The EERN prays that this program can follow Jesus’ example when he sat at that well and began a conversation with “Will you give me a drink?”

Jim McGill is a mission co-worker in Niger serving with the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger (EERN).

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